Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
"Animal Attraction" Plot Summary:
As Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and Amarys walk along a snowy road, Joxer bumps into the Amazon, who complains that if he'd stop staring at Gabrielle, he could see where he was going. "If I ever start acting like that, kill me," she requests. Joxer says Amarys knows nothing about love, making her retort that she doesn't need a man and considers him totally dispensable. Gabrielle notices the attention and tells Xena she feels pressured by Joxer, but Xena's half-asleep, uncomfortable riding, and distracted. Then Argo whinnies and she charges ahead, finding a beautiful brown horse with its foot stuck in a trap just as the other three catch up. The bard calms the animal while Xena frees it. They then take the horse with them to the nearby town of Spamona, renowned for its hot springs.
Spamona looks a lot like a town from an American western, and as soon as they stable the horses, a cowboy tells Xena no weapons are allowed. When the warrior princess and her friends laugh, a woman in chaps and a cowboy hat appears, and says that she'll relieve Xena of her sword. The two fight, Xena gets the other woman at the end of her sword, then they greet each other. The woman is Talia, an old friend. Since Xena is craving strawberry jam and raw fish, they head off for the saloon together. Inside, a deputy shows Talia a dagger that she recognizes as her own. The last time she saw it, it was lying near the villain Darkon, whom Talia surmises is approaching the town again. Xena offers to help, but Talia says it's her own problem.
Amarys goes to the hot springs, where she accidentally knocks a really good-looking guy into a bubbling tub, nearly drowning him. After a little mouth-to-mouth and one look at Amarys' lovely face, the guy revives. Joxer comes in looking for the girl and recognizes Arman, the son of the first man Joxer ever killed. (Joxer made peace with the youth in "The Convert"). They chat, Arman accidentally trips Amarys, and the men laugh at her, which infuriates Amarys to the point of swearing. "Does she kiss her mother with that mouth?" asks an incredulous Arman. While the men get massages and complain about Amarys, Amarys sits in a steam room with Xena and Gabrielle complaining about men. Again Xena is distracted, so Gabrielle suggests that her friend visit a healer.
The healer tells Xena that she's in excellent health, considering that she's pregnant. Xena roars that the healer is a quack and tells him that if he knew his job, he'd know that pregnancy requires certain physical activities that she hasn't participated in for a long time. "I am a love-free zone!" she declares. Meanwhile, Joxer tries to carry Gabrielle's apples for her in a chivalric gesture. "You might like it," he suggests. "I don't think so! Get your hands off my apples!" exclaims Gabrielle, and the two tug until the bag rips, spilling its contents. Feeding the apples to her new horse, the bard finds that he won't make friends easily even with "advice" from Argo. "I'm talking to horses! Am I nuts?" Gabrielle inquires in disgust. Approached by Arman, she suggests that he bring Amarys flowers to make peace because all women love flowers...well, all except Xena.
At that moment, the warrior princess is swooning over roses and cooing over teddy bears. Then she visits Talia, offering to help her against Darkon. Talia admits that Darkon is really her own abusive husband and therefore not Xena’s problem. Besides, she won't let Xena take him on, especially since she’s pregnant! Noting the warrior princess' cravings, gas, and sleepiness, Talia snaps, "Wake up and smell the diapers." A troubled Xena goes into the saloon and orders milk. There she finds Amarys, whose problems with Arman don't interest her. But when she passes the young man carrying flowers and presents on her way out, Xena snarls that she'll have his hide if he hurts Amarys.
Hurting Amarys is the last thing on Arman's mind, but after a patronizing offer to protect and pamper her, he and Amarys argue and then kiss. When Joxer comes in looking for Gabrielle and makes a suggestive comment, the Amazon slugs him. Gabrielle is busy bonding with her new horse, trying to gain empathy by pretending to have a sore foot like the animal. While the group ponders its romantic problems, Talia saddles up her horse and rides off.
Xena confesses her pregnancy and realizes her audience already knew, though there is the small question of how it happened. It's her horse she's telling, however; "Gabrielle's going to freak," she predicts. Bumping into Arman, she apologizes for threatening him, saying that any fool can risk his life but only a hero will risk his heart. "Tell that to Amarys," he suggests, but Xena thinks he should tell her himself. Arman returns to the saloon while Xena throws up on the ground.
Amarys and Arman begin to argue again, Joxer goes looking for Gabrielle who prefers the horse's company, and all convene in the barn where Xena has gone to tell Gabrielle her surprising secret. With everyone yammering at once, the warrior princess mutters, "I'm pregnant," more and more loudly until finally she shouts the news. Total silence descends over the group. "When...who..." Gabrielle stammers, but Xena says, "I don't know." Still, she believes that it’s good that there is life within her. Stunned, Gabrielle hugs and congratulates Xena. So does Amarys, who believes the older woman will be a good mother. Joxer says he always wanted to be an uncle, but he has news of his own to relay: Darkon is on his way and no one knows where Talia is. Xena fans the troops out to protect the town.
Guarding the flank, Amarys and Arman admit that they are both afraid of their feelings and afraid to admit weakness. Then they kiss more passionately than before. While Gabrielle speculates on the father of the baby, she and Xena get ready with knives and the chakram. "You don't have the slightest idea? How can you not know? Maybe Ares did a god thing," the bard suggests. But Xena is furious: "NO!" "When was the last time you saw Hercules?" continues Gabrielle relentlessly, but hooves interrupt speculation as Darkon and his posse ride into town. Talia faces him in the center of the empty street as he proclaims, "Honey, I'm home."
While the villain's cronies scatter to fight Talia's allies, Talia and her husband face off, drawing and throwing knives at one another that cross in midair and miss. Then they draw swords and fence. A thug with a crossbow tries to shoot Talia, but Xena throws her chakram at him. With the help of Amarys and Arman, Gabrielle takes out two bad guys with her knives and then tries to persuade another not to torch the barn where her horse is stabled. Hearing her pleas, the horse breaks down the barn doors and knocks over the thug.
Uncovering her chakram at her side, Xena watches as Talia and Darkon fight. The warrior princess has promised not to get involved. Eventually, Talia gets the upper hand. "Finish it," demands her husband, but Talia says that she already has; the rest is up to a judge. Amarys and Arman kiss goodbye, but she promises that she says hello better. Gabrielle gets a saddle and bridle onto her horse, calling it "the beginning of a beautiful relationship," glad they will leave as a family - "'family' being the operative word." When she offers to race Xena to Greece, however, Xena says that if she tries, her friend won't walk straight for a month.
A terrific episode from start to finish, "Animal Attraction" has a lot going on and pulls off all the storylines with aplomb. Amarys suffered the most from the crowding, falling in love with only the most petty and superficial of her Amazon traits at the forefront. She's not supposed to have a girlish fear of men, she's supposed to have a deep ideological commitment to living unburdened by patriarchal society. Yet, here her major concern is Arman's manners, not her own values. She is genuinely pleased to find out that Xena is pregnant, which is fine, but I'd expect more ambivalence from a real Amazon on the whole domestic package - not a quick vote in favor of romance just because the guy's a sensitive hunk.
Gabrielle's deeply ambivalent reaction to Xena's news is much more in character and a lot more plausible. This has got to bother her on a lot of levels. For one, she's clearly skeptical of Xena's claims of immaculate conception, mentioning the two candidates she believes are most likely for fatherhood...and not just because they have divine parents. Putting aside the ongoing question of whether the warrior princess and her sidekick are lovers, Gabrielle is bound to be upset at the idea that her best friend had a love affair and didn't even tell her. There's also the fact that when Gabrielle became pregnant unexpectedly and through divine means, Xena was completely unsupportive. The ghost of Hope must hang over both these women; I'm surprised no one suspected Dahok, in one form or another, as a potential progenitor, since Xena recently spent time in Hell.
Xena's reaction to the suggestion that Ares could have knocked her up is defensive enough to make that plausible, too. We don't know everything that happened the night he went to her while her memories of violence and hatred were fuzzy. I liked her reaction to the pregnancy very much when she was playing it straight instead of overdoing the barfing and farting. She manages the balance between shock and wonder very well, and it doesn't surprise me that after losing Solon, she's not sorry to be having another baby and another chance.
Finally, there's the plot thread involving Talia and Darkon. This is overlaid with threats of domestic violence and its consequences. What a rather dark shadow to cast over Amarys and Arman's growing attraction, especially since Arman is the son of an abusive man. That story is not given enough screen time but is remarkably well played given the stylized Old West caricature into which it could have descended. For some reason, having a town like Spamona works fine on this series, with touches like a cattle skull on the gates and studded spurs on the cowboys. Those clever details don't detract from the serious storylines that take place in the setting. Add in Gabrielle's romancing the horse, Joxer's bumbling in love, and the complex ties of friendship among all the principals, the sum is one of the best episodes this show has ever done.